Parenting with Process in Mind

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“Sometimes I think about writing a book about our own healing journey,” I told a friend of mine.   She responded, “I think you should wait a while, and then you can write about how your kids turn out.”   I didn’t have to think long before responding because it is something I had already considered.  I said, “That sort of thinking implies that the process was worthless if the outcome isn’t perfect.”  The process is what matters.  Did you love your child well today?  Did you encourage and connect with your child?

Outcome parenting is parenting with certain goals in mind.  Outcome parenting creates an environment where children feel as though they have to earn their worth, an environment where opportunities for joy are missed because the outcome the parent has in mind remains unachieved.  Outcome parenting has few pivotal moments that determine whether or not the child/ parent has been successful.  Examples of these pivotal moments would be making the travel soccer team, graduating from college, making the varsity cheerleader squad, staying in honors classes, marrying well, looking a certain way, having the right friends, etc.

Imagine a child who is very musically interested and starts taking piano lessons.  He starts out self-motivated and loving the process, but soon Mom develops some goals for his new hobby. There is a scholarship available to a limited number of students that do well at a school competition.  She starts paying attention when he practices and harping on him when he doesn’t.  She complains about all the money she is spending and how little progress he is making.  Practicing that was once looked forward to is now the dreaded time of the day.  The school competition comes up, the child’s nerves get the best of him, and he misses several notes.  Because the focus of this was the outcome, the child has failed.  The mother feels like a failure too.  All that work, fighting, and suffering was for nothing. 

Imagine instead a parent that focuses on the process.  Her child wants to learn how to play the piano.  She encourages him to do that and pays for him to have piano lessons.  He hates the music that the piano teacher has given him to practice, so his mom goes to the music store with him to find music books on his level with songs he wants to play.  She enjoys listening to his progress and comments frequently on his hard work.  She says that as long as he invests his time in music, she will support him by paying for his lessons.  The same school competition is coming up.  The child decides to participate.  He also misses several notes and does not qualify for the scholarship.  He feels embarrassed that he messed up in front of everyone, but he does not feel like a failure.  The joy for him was in the process.

Parenting that focuses on process is much more joyful and connected.  It is not what the child achieves, but how happy and connected the child is during the process. It is being able to forget about everything the child needs to know by Friday for his test and just focusing on supporting him exactly where he is in his learning.  It is about staying more connected and invested in the day to day interactions with your child than in the outcome. 

 I fell into the trap of outcome parenting for years.  I decided it was my job to get my child to learn everything he needed to learn in order to make sure he could be successful, get into college, and provide for himself.  Instead what I did was create so much stress in our home that he could NOT learn.  I spent hours working on colors, numbers, and letters to no avail. On bad days, I measured my own success as a parent and his success as a person by the dismal outcome of our efforts.  When I gave this all up and started focusing on the process, he started to learn by leaps and bounds.  He went from resisting all types of school work to loving certain subjects, being a voracious reader, and being on grade level in every subject.  There are still subjects that he struggles with, but he loves to learn again.  He feels good about his efforts and knows that if he wants to achieve something, he can.  He just has a different idea of what he wants to achieve than most do.

The other day, my son came in from school with a math test that had every single problem marked with a big red X and stamped with a big red 0.  Because we have learned not to focus on this type of thing, he was only a little discouraged about it.  I noticed a small red note in the bottom right of the corner that said, “You actually got every problem correct on your scrap sheet of paper.  You just transferred them into the wrong blank spot.”  I said, “Oh my goodness, you worked so hard and got every single one right.  I know that took a lot of effort, and you did practice problems all week.  Your work paid off!  You know exactly how to do these.”  He beamed.  I still have a rare day here and there when I catch myself parenting as though the outcome is the only thing that matters.  These are not good parenting days.  They are filled with fear and urgency, both of which make very bad parenting buddies. 

Since Mother’s Day is around the corner, here is a thought.  You are not a failure because your child isn’t hitting society’s goals for him.  Instead, you are a champion because it takes a lot more courage to focus on everything your child is learning and how far your child has come.  It takes super-hero strength some days to stay focused on the small victories your child has had.  There is absolutely no more value in a child that achieves every wanted outcome than one who does not achieve any.  When we focus on outcome, we make children feel like their value is contingent on their achievements.  I don’t believe any parent wants to communicate this to his/her child.  Any child can be a success if we focus on the process.